Never heard of Esperanza Spalding? Here's a great introduction.
The American Academy of Achievement has an extensive biography of Spalding, including several video interviews.
Esperanza Spalding was born in Portland, Oregon. Her parents separated when she was very young, and her mother raised Esperanza and her brother alone in King, a neighborhood in Portland that suffered poverty and violence during the years Esperanza was growing up. Despite the family's limited resources, Esperanza's mother fostered free thinking and creative expression in her children and exposed them to a variety of cultural influences.
Esperanza fell in love with music at the age of four after seeing classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma perform in Mister Rogers & # 39; Neighborhood. Too small to hold the cello, she picked up the violin. After a few violin lessons, she was able to practice and learn independently. Her progress on her first instrument was extraordinary. The Portland community offered young people a number of opportunities to participate in musical ensembles, and young Esperanza took advantage of all of them. At the age of five she played with the Chamber Music Society of Oregon.
Over the next ten years she learned guitar from her mother, taught herself the piano, and experimented with the clarinet and oboe. At the age of 15 she was concert master (lead violinist) at the Chamber Music Society and ready to realize her original dream of playing the cello. By chance she picked up a double bass instead and fell in love with the giant of the string family. Larger than the cello, the bass is usually the instrument of choice for tall men with long arms and large hands. At five feet six, Esperanza Spalding compensated for her smaller stature with an oversized talent and relentless dedication to music. She also picked up the electric bass and began writing songs, singing, and leading a band in Portland rock clubs.
In the following interview Spalding talks about growing up in a tough neighborhood and the importance of having community programs in Portland that support the arts. She shares memories of the first time she heard Yo-Yo Ma. on public television and in Mr. Rogers & # 39; neighborhood.
Full video transcript here.
In a 2008 interview with Nu-Soul Magazine, Spalding explained her unique choice of instruments.
"Well, I didn't really choose the bass, nor did I expect it to take me anywhere when I started studying it. I played a lot of other instruments that I've tried well, but the bass had its own bow and developed a path for me that I just kept following. I don't know why or how, but my development on bass was natural and unexpected. What would I do with another instrument? This is how I feel. The bass and I just vibrate With. "
Spalding's affinity for bass has been jazz fans since she released her debut album in 2006, Junjo, as Michael G. Nastos from All Music wrote at the time.
The debut recording of acoustic double bass player and singer Esperanza Spalding, a native of Portland, OR and residing in Boston, MA, is an exercise in joy and freedom. Well rendered for such a young musician, it is remarkable given the certainty of its concept and the clarity of its vision. While this is contemporary jazz, there are Latin American flavors, unabashed free moments, and some implicit and direct swings. In addition, it is an expression of their well-being, their optimism and their future hope for their lives in this music. In their peer group, too, the pianist Aruan Ortiz and the drummer Francisco Mela add a hundredfold to this music and establish themselves as future leaders. They are perfectly capable partners for Spalding's wonderful sounds. The first track, a recording of the evergreen Jimmy Rowle's "The Peacocks," lets you know that something special is going on. Spalding's bass begins with Ortiz's exploratory piano, while wordless vocals and a modal jam precede the melody, followed by a free section. The imagination quotient of this interpretation is off the charts.
Listen to "The Peacocks" for yourself and you'll find that you agree with Nastos: There's something special going on.
Despite becoming a professor at 20 and releasing her first album at 21, Spalding is quick to dismiss those she calls a child prodigy for a very clear reason.
Well, this being is deep in study and in incantation mode in silent self-quarantine. For those who might be interested, here are some lectures on spells, relationships between music, gifts and goods, and more. I love allhttps: //t.co/jUZCF2LxMo pic.twitter.com/JlYWTt7Bni
– Esperanza Spalding (@EspeSpalding) March 22, 2020
Spalding is not just an instrumentalist; She is also a gifted singer-songwriter. Nor is it tied to what people expect from a “jazz artist”. She moves fluently and freely between musical genres. NPR's Lara Pellegrinelli wrote an exuberant review of Spalding in 2018, which she even called a "genius".
An Obama's favorite, Spalding played "Overjoyed" at the White House in 2009 in honor of Stevie Wonder and sparked a relationship between the two artists. Prince invited her to the jam, and she played on his tribute to the BET Lifetime Achievement Award, opening it up on tour in 2011. (When I saw the show, I had to watch Questlove, who was at the end of my aisle, his head Spalding's "I Know You Know".) The Radio Music Society had a guest appearance by Lalah Hathaway; Q-Tip produced a couple of his tracks. Spalding was a guest on Janelle Monáe's album The Electric Lady in 2013 and Bruno Mars & # 39; 2012 Unorthodox Jukebox.
These artists clearly recognize Spalding as a talented colleague. The benefits of their creative exchanges may seem obvious to those outside of jazz, but they contradict the often elitist musical culture of jazz. They come at a time when the shape in the rearview mirror is in their sights, and most young artists "try to sound like they peaked in 1942 or 1957," says Carrington.
Spalding has more in common with two of jazz's greatest living composers: pianist Herbie Hancock and saxophonist Wayne Shorter, co-founder of the superband Weather Report. (Incidentally, Spalding writes the libretto for Shorter's opera Iphigenia, which will premier in 2020.) Alumni of Miles Davis's second great quintet, the two men, pioneers of fusion from the 1970s and pioneered paths that brought them to audiences for commercial music .
Yes, Spalding is an Obama's favorite. In 2009 she appeared at President Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.
Here she is backstage at the White House in 2016. One of the things I miss the most when I don't have the Obamas in the White House? The amazing number of artists they supported including Spalding.
Here is Spalding at the White House Poetry Jam 2009.
For Black History Month 2012 Spalding released this remarkable video for “Black Gold”.
NPR provides some context.
The Afrocentric implication of the title is no accident. The song was released yesterday, February 1st – the first day of Black History Month. The video premiered yesterday on a network called Black Entertainment Television. And for these ears, the music itself combines the jazz aesthetic with the sounds of today's black pop music.
In case this message was not clear, Spalding wrote a comment on the title for members of the press:
This song sings about our pre-slavery African American heritage. Over the decades, much of the strength in the African American community has come from resistance and perseverance. I wanted to address the part of our heritage that dates back to pre-colonial Africa and the elements of black pride that result from our connection with our ancestors in their own land. I especially wanted to create something that spoke to boys.
The lyrics are powerful:
Think of all the power that you have in you
From the blood that you have in you
Builder of Civilization
Keep your head as high as possible
High enough to see who you are little man
Life is cold and cruel at times
Baby no one else is going to tell you so remember
You are black gold, black gold
You are black gold
In an interview with Yin & Yang, Spalding speaks briefly about her process of writing the song and about the black identity that is capitalized.
In “How To (hair)” from her Grammy Award 2018 album “12 Little Spells”, she affirms her identity as a black woman – a group for whom hair was a central theme in the context of white society in the past.
The final lyrics are powerful.
I raise my palm to praise the symphonic diaper
Haloing your head
I raise my palm to praise the God given diaper
Haloing your head
I raise my palm to praise the beautiful diaper
Haloing your head
As with "Black Gold" the video is a powerful one!
In 2016, Spalding went in a different direction with the release of Emily's D + Evolution, which was reviewed by jazz writer Charles J. Gans (who also contributes to the Daily Kos) for the Philadelphia Tribune.
Supported by her power rock trio of electric guitarist Matthew Stevens, drummer Jason Tyson, and three yellow-clad backup singers and dancers, Spalding turned her Brooklyn show into performance art by using props like a stack of books on "Ebony and Ivy "Which alludes to the historical links between elite American universities and the slave trade.
The Brooklyn concert was a preview of a world tour that began this month and unveiled her new album marking her evolution as a singer-songwriter. It has less to do with jazz than her four previous solo releases. She doesn't play acoustic bass and doesn't do solos.
"Emily is a name for a process … when you sense something is pent up that you haven't developed yet," said Spalding, 31, at a coffee shop near her Brooklyn home. "It takes a breakout sometimes to open that up, and that's a lot of what Emily does."
Emily is also Spalding's middle name, of course.
"Ebony and Ivy" was inspired by Craig Steven Wilder's Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of American Universities.
A 2006 report commissioned by Brown University revealed the institution's complex and controversial involvement in slavery – which sparked a controversy that leapt from the ivory tower and made headlines across the country. But Brown's troubled past was far from unique. In Ebony and Ivy, Craig Steven Wilder, an emerging star in the history profession, exposes nasty truths about race, slavery, and the American academy.
Many of the prestigious American colleges and universities – from Harvard, Yale and Princeton to Rutgers, Williams College and UNC – were soaked with the sweat, tears, and sometimes blood of people of color. Slavery funded colleges, built campuses, and paid professors' salaries. Enslaved Americans awaited faculty and students; academic leaders aggressively solicited support from slave owners and slave traders. As Wilder shows, our leading universities, which relied on human bondage, became breeding grounds for the racist ideas that supported them.
Spalding knows exactly what it owes to jazz history and to artists like Wayne Shorter, a pioneer of jazz fusion. Here is her vocal tribute to Shorter at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2018 with the performance of "Endangered Species."
In an earlier tribute to Shorter, Spalding recorded the bass guitar for this 2009 performance of the same composition at Austin City Limits. what do you prefer?
The versatility of Spalding is evident in cross-genre collaborations – like this one with Grammy-award-winning pianist Robert Glasper.
Spalding is also committed to social activism outside the stage. She has been an ambassador for the Innocence Project since 2018.
Much of Spalding's music takes on a pronounced social awareness. She dedicated Land of the Free to the Innocence Project client, Cornelius Dupree, who was exonerated after serving more than 30 years in prison for committing a crime he did not commit. (She performed at our 25th anniversary celebration where she met Cornelius and his wife Selma.) Spalding also made a video, We Are America, about the Guantanamo Bay prison in 2013 and performed at the National Museum's Peace Ball of African American history and culture in Washington.
It was great to see the birthday wishes for her role last month. May she be gifted with many more.
I realize, dear readers, that there are many bass players that I haven't covered in this series. Take part in the comments for some comments and post your favorites.
And if you have some free time (or extra cash) help us choose Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in Georgia!